Christmas Eve was rarely hectic in Mycroft's office, but this year was an exception. New operatives needed their security levels adjusted, the Soviet ambassador expected a diplomatic answer to an obnoxious letter, and Sherlock… well, where to start? This week alone he'd pulled the following stunts, all of which required his big brother's intervention:

1. Smuggled a disembodied hand from the morgue and dropped it in the parking lot, causing a woman to faint and hit her head.

2. Transferred an anthrax sample from its cracked container into a salt shaker at Angelo's, and forgot to steal the shaker afterward. Mycroft had to write a hefty cheque to pay for all the hastily confiscated items.

3. Hacked into the missile defense plans at RAF Fairford and accidentally downloaded them to a gaming server instead of his own laptop. Britain had been one enthusiastic gamer away from total annihilation.

At 2:00 p.m., Mycroft paused long enough to pour a shot of 20-year-old Dalwhinnie from the crystal bar set in the corner. He rarely drank before nightfall, but convinced himself that it was just Christmas cheer instead of fraternal despair that motivated him.

The intercom on his desk buzzed. "Sir, your brother is here," Anthea said.

Mycroft tensed. Sherlock almost never came directly to him like this. He usually sent John.

"Thank you, my dear. Send him in."

"Yes, sir."

The door opened a moment later. Mycroft turned away from the bar set, face a mask of polite surprise. The pretense vanished when he saw that his younger brother was on the verge of tears.

No one else would have perceived Sherlock's distress, with the possible exception of John. Standing in the doorway, his figure erect and hands buried in his pockets, he looked as composed and aloof as ever. But semi-hysteria flowed beneath the sombre surface, like a trapped current preparing to smash its way out. Mycroft could sense it.

"Sherlock." Mycroft frowned and gestured for him to close the door. "What is it?"

Instead of responding, the younger man went directly to the black leather sofa beneath the window and sat down. Mycroft waited, knowing from past experience that persistent questioning would backfire.

Finally, Sherlock spoke. "I went shopping for John's Christmas presents yesterday."


"I got him everything he asked for. But there's one thing I know he really wants, and I'm afraid I can't deliver."

"I see. And you need my help getting it for him?"

Sherlock exhaled slowly. "Precisely."

"Well, of course." Mycroft approached and sat at the opposite end of the sofa. "What is it?"